A top hardliner cleric in Iran has expressed concern over the decline in the budget allocated to religious institutions, as U.S. sanctions have affected the government's ability to fund ideological centers meant to strengthen the regime's influence in society.
Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi said on Thursday August 8 that many seminaries had to fire some of the "scholars" working for them.
He complained that the Iranian government has refused to allocate the budget it used to give to seminaries.
The funds allocated to seminaries and other religious institutions have been the subject of controversies during the past two years as the government was harshly criticized by various groups including teachers and workers who have not been paid for months.
Some of the religious institutions have received 33.5 trillion rials from the government budget (roughly $798 million at the official exchange rate) during the previous year, while also receiving sums indirectly from various government organizations.
Nevertheless, some seminary managers including Alireza Erafi have complained that the budget is much less than what seminary officials expected.
He said January 17 that "the seminaries are in their worst financial situation ever as their budget has been cut to one third."
Makarem, a staunch enemy of civil liberties and equal rights for women owns dozens of religious schools and colleges and two universities in various Iranian cities as well as two hotels in Qom and Mashahd and plans to open 110 religious madrasahs "in the under privileged parts of Iran."
He also has 6 offices in Tehran, 16 in other Iranian cities and quite a few others in Pakistan and Iraq.
Rumors had it that Makarem was involved in importing sugar to fund his offices and religious schools, but he denied the rumors in June.